At the end of February 1990, Margaret Thatcher visited Bradford, and in the Lord Mayor’s Parlour at City Hall granted an interview to Yorkshire TV stalwart Richard Whiteley. She was full of praise for Eric Pickles, telling Whiteley that “I think he’s doing a superb job”, “doing extremely well”, “has done wonders”, “kept the Community Charge [poll tax] down”, and that “had it been a Labour council, it would have been very much higher”.
So the then Prime Minister might be thought to have approved of Pickles’ conduct in the year and a half since the Tories took control of Bradford council. Her enthusiasm was not shared with the opposition, nor with an increasing number of the district’s voters.
In May of the previous year, the twelve month term of Lord Mayor Smith Midgley ended, and, as I noted yesterday, by custom the next holder of the office was to be a Liberal. But Fat Eric had, once more, been doing his homework: there was nothing in the council’s rules to enforce this custom. So when the council held its Annual General Meeting, the Liberals’ nomination for Lord Mayor, to their surprise, was voted down.
Then, Tory George Hodgson (another Pickles pal from Keighley) was nominated. Using the outgoing Lord Mayor’s casting vote, the Tories voted Hodgson in, and therefore kept their hands on the levers of power for another year. While the use of the Lord Mayor’s casting vote had annoyed Labour and Liberal councillors the previous year, the cynical use of that vote to retain the office poisoned relations between the parties for years afterwards.
But, as Margaret Thatcher had told Richard Whiteley, Fat Eric had kept the Poll Tax level down, although he probably had been helped in this endeavour by central Government. So perhaps the electorate would look more kindly on him when the 1990 round of elections arrived: after all, the Tories were defending just eleven seats, most of which were considered safe.
Sadly, the Tories’ national loss of popularity, together with the electorate being less than totally impressed with the so-called “Bradford Revolution”, meant that they lost five of those seats, while Labour, defending nineteen seats of which some were marginal, held almost all of them, in addition to their gains from the Tories.
Labour were now the majority party, and would remain so for another decade: the Pickles era had ended.